Taking Notes

One of the early adjustments to college work is the amount of notes students need to make. Lectures, class assignments, library work, term papers and meetings all involve taking notes, especially if not gifted with a photographic memory. Included here are some tips on efficient and effective note taking strategies which may be helpful.

BE PREPARED

In classes, have a large loose-leaf notebook with the paper you find most comfortable - narrow ruled, wide ruled, no rules. You may also want to keep a small notebook or notecards and pen/pencil with you whenever you may be doing any of the "business" of being a student. For class notes, effective note takers leave about 2 1/2 - 3 inches wide sidebar on the left margin or draw a vertical line down each sheet. Come prepared to listen and to participate. Try to be as positive as possible about the experience.

TAKING NOTES

Use the area to the right of your vertical lines. Write legibly on one side of the paper only. Write general notes in loose paragraph form. Complete sentences are not necessary. Do not describe each illustration or example. Use abbreviations wherever possible. Trying to outline takes unnecessary time and effort. Skip lines between major ideas, thoughts or concepts.

Listen as well as write. Instructors have individual lecture, discussion and questioning styles. Tune in to them. Don't become sidetracked by an idea with which you agree or disagree. Keep paying attention and write. Do not try to write everything being said. Pay special attention to introductions, conclusions, repeated phrases, repetitions of ideas in other words, comparisons and contrasts, and lengthy elaborations. Take notes on handouts being used to outline the discussion. Do not rewrite what is on handouts.

FOLLOW-UP

As soon as possible read your notes. Ten minutes per class period within 24 hours of the class helps you retain most of the ideas. Underline or highlight main ideas. Use asterisks and arrows. Number sets of ideas which make lists that may be asked for on tests. In the sidebar write keywords or main ideas from the paragraphs. Condense to the most important. Use mnemonic techniques, such as acronyms made from important groups of words. Put ideas in your own words. Cover the paragraphs and see what you recall using the prompts (keywords) in the sidebar. Use the sidebar when reviewing for tests and then check your more complete notes for the ideas which need more review.

Some people find concept mapping useful when reviewing or condensing notes. Start with clean unlined paper. Print in capitals to keep points brief. Put the main idea or concept in the middle of the sheet. Around it make branches for groups of related words and ideas. You can use lines, arrows, branches to link lists, groups or flows of ideas. You might circle tightly related ideas into groups. You can add in explanations of important areas. The idea is to brainstorm with yourself or others to get as much information down as possible in a short time. The organizational patterns will develop through successive iterations of the activity. It becomes a freeform outline of the relevant information around the key word or phrase. This can be condensed to tighter maps. The purpose is to pull in as many related ideas as possible and later rank them in importance for your own understanding. These look a bit like organizational charts.